Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Blue

Medium tempo blues practically play themselves especially when the rhythm section just lays it down and stays out of the way, which is exactly what bassist Peter Washington and drummer Joe Farnsworth do on the audio track to the following video. The tune is entitled Systems Blue. Trombonist Steve Davis wrote it and performs on it along with Mike DiRubbo on alto saxophone, David Hazeltine on piano and, of course, Peter and Joe.

Jazz musicians like to open the first set of club dates or concerts with a medium tempo blues.  The easy tempo, simplified song structure [usually 12 bars which repeats once] and the groove generated all serve to get the juices flowing.


Smiles all round after listening to "the kids" making it happen on this one.


Jazz is in good hands.


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Brew Moore: A Wandering, Soulful Tenor Saxophonist


© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“Moore was a terrific, but star-crossed tenor player, at his best as good as Getz and Sims, but never able to get a career together as they did. He left only a small number of records behind him ….”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

If, as Louis Armstrong’s states – “Jazz is only who you are” – then the inventiveness and spontaneous nature of tenor saxophone Brew Moore’s music was certainly reflective of his wandering and constantly searching lifestyle.

Mark Gardner, the distinguished Jazz author offered these insights about Brew in the liner notes to Brothers and Other Mothers [Savoy Records SJL2210].

“Milton A. Moore Jr. was a drifter, a born loser, a hero of the beat generation and a brilliant saxophonist. Yes, he once remarked that any tenorman who did not play like Pres was playing wrong-that was the extent of his admiration.

Moore was born in Indianola, Mississippi, on March 26, 1924, and his first musical instrument was a harmonica given to him by his mother as a seventh birthday present. He played in his high school band and at 18 got a job with Fred Ford's dixieland band. He arrived in New York during 1943 and heard what bebop was all about. He would return to New York several times in the late forties to lead his own quartet, work with Claude Thornhill (an unlikely environment), swing his tail off in front of Machito's Afro-Cubans, gig with Gerry Mulligan and Kai Winding at the Royal Roost and Bop City.

Moore was never around one place for too long. He would take off for Memphis or New Orleans, playing all kinds of weird jobs ("I go where the work is"). Around 1953-54 he was on the Greenwich Village scene, a frequent jammer at Bob Reisner's Open Door where other cats playing mostly for kicks and little bread included Thelonious Monk. Charlie Parker, Charlie Mingus and Roy Haynes. It was at the Open Door that Bird and Brew once serenaded a piece of chewing gum stuck to the floor. Recently discovered recordings also found Parker and Moore together on 1953 sessions in Montreal, Canada.

One day in the 'fifties Brew casually took off for California. As Moore told it, "Billy Faier had a 1949 Buick and somebody wanted him to drive it out to California and he rode through Washington Square shouting 'anyone for the Coast?' And I was just sitting there on a bench and there wasn't s*** shaking in New York so I-said 'hell, yes,' and when we started off there was Rambling Jack Elliot and Woody Guthrie." After Woody heard Brew play at the roadside en route he refused to speak again to the saxophonist.

Guthrie didn't dig jazz. "But we were the only juice heads in the car so Woody would say to Jack or Billy, 'Would you ask Brew if he'd like to split a bottle of port with me, and I'd say, 'You tell Woody that's cool with me.' Then they let me off in L.A. and I took a bus up to San Francisco."

Before that fantastic journey. Brew had worked around with his buddy Tony Fruscella, a beautiful trumpeter who was also over-fond of the juice. Allen Eager was also a regular playing partner of Fruscella's. Brew stayed in Frisco for about five years, played all over town, made a couple of albums under his own name, recorded with Cal Tjader and drank a lot of wine. He was seriously ill in 1959 but recovered and in 1961 moved to Europe and for three years drifted around the Continent.

Twice in the 1960's he returned to the States but there was still no s*** shaking and nobody bothered to record him properly (a date as a sideman with Ray Nance was the only evidence of the final, unhappy return). His parents were very old and his mother sick. Brew was far from well and didn't look after himself. Friends kept an eye on him and tried to ensure that he ate regularly but Moore was almost past caring.


When he decided to split back to Scandinavia via the Canary Islands where he played at Jimmy Gourley's Half Note Club in Las Palmas, some of his admirers in New York produced a four-page newspaper called "Brew Moore News," in which Brew wrote a touching little verse:

Love I feel, but longing much;
Thy face I see, but cannot touch.
Your presence in heart is good, I know,
but hand in hand-it's greater so.

Time was running out for Brew. There was one more album - a great set made at a Stockholm club [Stampen] where Moore really grooved. Then came the news that he had died after falling down a flight of steps in a restaurant.

The final irony: Brew, who had scuffled and scraped for cash almost all his life, had just been left a substantial sum of money, to give him genuine security, by a relative who had died. It happened too late.”

“Scuffling” is very much the byword when talking about Brew as one has to jump here and there to find the few scraps of information and opinion that has been written about him in that Jazz literature.

Jazz author and critic, Ralph J, Gleason, had this to say about him in the insert notes to one of Brew’s best recordings – The Brew Moore Quintet [Fantasy 3-2222 –OJCCD 100-2]:

Mainly main idea is to get back to simplicity.' says Brew Moore of his work these days. "I like a small group—such as the quintet we have on this album—where there is no other front line and I can let myself go. The biggest kick to me in playing is swinging-freedom and movement. And with a small group, I can do this more easily.

"Music must be a personal expression of one's own world and way of life. When every­thing else gets to be a drag there is music for forgetfulness and also for memory and or a reminder that there is more good than bad in most things. The idea of playing for me is to compose a different, not always better I'm afraid, melody on the tune and basis of the original song, rather than construct a series of chord progressions around the original chords. I feel that in several spots in this group of tunes we attain the rapport necessary for good jazz. I hope so."

And when you listen to these numbers, you will agree that Brew … has done what he set out to do. These all swing and even Brew, who is most critical of his own work ("I guess I never have been happy with anything I did") had to say of this album, "It swings. You can say that."

Brew has two absolutely golden gifts. He swings like mad and he has soul. These are things you cannot learn by wood-shedding [practicing], or in any conservatory. You have to be born with them or learn them by living. Brew had them and he also has a priceless gift for phrasing.

"Everything he plays lays just right," one musician put it. It certainly does. …  When Brew says it, he says it simply, but it rings true. That's the best way there is.”

Ted Gioia, in his definitive West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960 encapsulates the essence of Brew and his career when he writes:

“After high school Moore began a peripatetic career that brought him little fame but gave him a heady taste for life on the move. …

By the time he moved to San Francisco [1954], Moore had achieved a reputation for excellence among Jazz insiders …. Jack Kerouac depicts a Moore performance in Desolation Angels, where Brew (or Brue, as Kerouac spells it) starts his solo with, the beat prosodist tells us, "a perfect beautiful new idea that announces the glory of the future world.”

This future glory eluded Moore to the end. His quartet and quintet albums on Fantasy, made during his California years, were his last commercial recordings in the United States. These along with his sideman re­cordings with Tjader, find the tenorist at absolutely top form, stretching out over standards with an impressive melodic and rhythmic inventiveness. In 1961, he moved to Europe, where, except for intermittent appearances in the United States, he lived until his death in 1973 as the result of a fall.”

To give you a sampling of what’s on offer in Brew Moore’s music, with the help of the crackerjack graphics team at CerraJazz LTD, we put together the following video tribute to Brew on which he performs You Stepped Out of a Dream with Swedish baritone saxophonist Lars Gullin [who also did the arrangement], Bent Axen [p], Niels-Henning Orsted-Pedersen [b] and William Schioppfe [d]. The music was recorded in Copenhagen in 1962.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorializing Paul Desmond


© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


Alto saxophonist Paul Desmond died on Memorial Day, 1977.

On this Memorial Day weekend, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it might be appropriate to commemorate the 35th anniversary of Paul’s passing with the following videos that feature his superbly unique alto playing in different musical contexts.

To ours ears, Paul’s sound is associated with everything that we find beautiful in the music.  His was a masterful command of the alto saxophone and his conception took the instrument to new heights, both figuratively and literally.

Paul’s music was like a good book: you could put it down and pick it up again anytime the mood suited you or you could stay up all night reading it. It was full of melodic “stories,” humor, and great depth of feeling.

Listening to Paul play was always a satisfying experience; and like the reading of that good book, one generally came away wanting more.

Stardust – Paul with pianist Dave Brubeck, bassist Ron Crotty and drummer Joe Dodge.


You Go To My Head – Paul with Don Elliott on trumpet and mellophonium, Norman Bates on bass and Joe Dodge on drums.


Chorale – Paul with Dave van Kriedt on tenor saxophone, Dave Brubeck on piano, Norman Bates on bass and Joe Morello on drums.


I’ve Got You Under My Skin – Paul with Jim Hall on guitar, Milt Hinton on bass, Robert Thomas on drums and strings and horns arranged by Bob Prince. [Click on the “X” to close out of the ads when these appear on the video].


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Body Language - The Photography of Tim Flach set to Warne Marsh's "Background Music."

Tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh's composition Background Music as performed by alto saxophonist Joris Roelofs' quartet and set to Tim Flach's photographs on the theme of Intelligent Life. Also performing are Aaron Goldberg on piano, Matt Penman on bass and drummer Ari Hoenig.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw - Henk Meutgeert/Riffs n Rhythms

It's great when the TV director knows the music and can focus on what's going on now and put cameras in positions to catch what's coming up next.

Pete Rugolo’s Sensibilities



© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“Pete Rugolo was a soft-spoken, self-effacing man, which may be one of the reasons he has not been given his due as the pioneering jazz composer he was. Kenton managed to be a controversial figure for the scope of what he attempted, which was often denounced as pompous. And it could be, particularly in its later manifestations. But the band for which Pete first wrote had a blazing quality, particularly in its slow pieces, which a lot of young people found moody, almost mystical, and melancholy, an emotion appropriate to the fragile years of adolescence.”
- Gene Lees

Every so often, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles enjoys revisiting with one of its heroes.

It is our way of saying “Thank You” to those who helped make our entrance into the joys of Jazz possible.

Such reconsiderations are especially pleasurable when we can do so through the perspective of the late Gene Lees, whose writings on Jazz collectively form one of the great gifts to the music and its makers.

Imagine our delight, then, when we uncovered the following essay by Gene on arranger-composer Pete Rugolo whose sensibilities brought us the brilliant music he wrote for both Stan Kenton’s and his own orchestra, Miles Davis Nontet’s  Birth of the Cool when he served as the head of Jazz artist and repertoire for Capitol Records and a whole host of marvelous movie and television music.

© -Gene Lees, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“I've told this before, but this is how I met the man. If you have reached "a certain age," as the French delicately put it, sufficient to remember the big bands in all their brassy glory, you will recall how the true believers would cluster close to the bandstand, listening to soloists whose names we knew, while the mere fans — some distance behind us — did their jitterbug gyrations. Since I was always one of these ardent listeners, I never learned to dance worth a hoot. But I heard a lot of good music. …

Yet another of the bands I admired came through, playing in the red-brick Armory on north James Street [in Hamilton, Ontario where Gene began his career as a newspaper reporter on the Hamilton Spectator]. As usual I was standing in the crowd of listeners near the bandstand. I was startled to find that the young man (older than I, but about thirty-three at the time) standing next to me was the band's chief arranger, whose bespectacled face I recognized from magazine photographs. I got up the courage to tell him how much I admired his writing; which had grandeur. He was polite to me, and suggested we go up to the balcony to listen. We sat through a long evening looking down at the band and discussing the music. Maybe I don't even know how much I learned that night.

A few years ago, I was at a party given by Henry Mancini. I found myself in conversation with one of Hank's closest friends, Pete Rugolo. I told him the story about the arranger and said, "Do you know who the arranger was, Pete?"

And he said, "No."

And I said, "You."

"Pete Rugolo was the architect of the Stan Kenton band," said one of Pete's friends of many years, composer Allyn Fergu­son, who also wrote for Kenton. Among other things, he wrote Passacaglia and Fugue for the Neophonic Orcherstra. "Pete had the academic background that Stan lacked."

And of course it was the Kenton band I was hearing the night I met Pete. That had to be in 1948 or '49, because Stan broke up the band in '49 and Pete went out on his own, at first as an a&r man with Capitol Records. He would have a place in jazz history if only because he is the man who signed the Miles Davis group that featured writing by John Lewis, Johnny Carisi and most of all Gerry Mulligan to record a series of "sides" for Capitol.

It occurs to me that I already had met Kenton when I met Pete. That must have been in 1947.1 held my first writing job at a broadcasting magazine in Toronto, and for some reason of union politics, Kenton was not allowed to make a certain radio broadcast. I was sent to his hotel to get his side of the story, and I imagine that I was. as a serious fan of that band in its main Artistry in Rhythm period, rather in awe at the idea of meeting him.

I knocked on his door, and he answered, fresh out of the shower, naked but for a towel around his waist, still drying his hair. Since he was about six-foot five, with a long, handsome, craggy face, a semi-nude soaking wet Stan Kenton was a figure to conjure with. He invited me in, I did my interview, and left. I think I was nineteen. It was about twelve years later, when I was editor of Down Beat, when I met him again. He said, "Hello, Gene, nice to see to see you again." So help me.

"Stan could do that," Pete said.

"The only other person I ever knew with a memory for names like that," I told Pete, "was Liberace."

Stan Kenton was an enormously nice man. I mentioned this to arranger and composer Bill Kirchner, who said, "Everyone I've ever known who played in that band said the same thing. Even Mel Lewis, who was, as you know, a man not easily pleased."

The relationship between Rugolo and Kenton has been compared to that between Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn ."That's what they all say, "Pete said. "I really don't know how close Strayhorn was with Ellington. But I think it was similar because Stan never had time to write any more. Every time we'd get to a hotel for a few days, we'd find a piano and discuss different arrangements. We'd call it making menus. He'd say, 'Well, we'll start off with eight bars, and then we'll do this or that.'
We wrote a few tunes together. Collaboration was one. Most of the time he just let me alone. He said, 'You know what to do.'"

On Christmas Day, 2001, Pete Rugolo turned 86, though he looked far younger than that. He is a soft-spoken, self-effacing man, which may be one of the reasons he has not been given his due as the pioneering jazz composer he was. Kenton managed to be a controversial figure for the scope of what he attempted, which was often denounced as pompous. And it could be, particularly in its later manifestations. But the band for which Pete first wrote had a blazing quality, particularly in its slow pieces, which a lot of young people found moody, almost mystical, and melancholy, an emotion appropriate to the fragile years of adolescence.

Pete was born in Sicily in a little mountaintop town near Messina called San Piero.
Another pioneering jazz writer of the 1940s, when the music was expanding its harmonic and rhythmic language, George Wallington, was also born in Sicily. He first studied piano with his father, who was an opera singer. His name was Giacinto Figlia, and the family moved to New York from Palermo when he was a year old.
Pete's family made the move when he was five.

"The only thing I remember about it is seeing the Statue of Liberty from the boat," Pete said. "We didn't stop in New York. We went right on by tram to Santa Rosa, California, where my grandfather was, my mother's father. He came years before we did. And he bought, like, a country store up by the Russian River, Santa Rosa, Sonoma County. When he had enough money, he sent for his children, two sons and a daughter, my mother. My dad had a degree as a stone mason, but when he came here he couldn't get work as a mason. My uncle was a shoemaker, and he taught my father the shoe business. He had a little store in Santa Rosa, and when he repaired shoes, they were like new. It was just a little busi­ness. We were very poor people. My dad finally bought a little house. My mother worked in a cannery. We all worked. I remember picking hops in the fields. And apples. There were a lot of Italian people in Santa Rosa.

"I walked a couple of miles to school every day, and then started playing all the instruments. My dad would fix people's shoes and if they couldn't pay him, they would bring him things. Someone brought him a mandolin, and I started playing the mandolin. One time I got a banjo, and I started playing that. And then somebody, who must have owed my dad a few hundred dollars, brought a beautiful grand piano. I learned to play by ear. I would play these Italian tunes, O Sole Mio and things like that.

"There was a little town near Santa Rosa called Petaluma. Later on I would hitch-hike to a teacher there for piano lessons. She taught more or less from the jazz books.


"I went to high school and junior college in Santa Rosa. From there I went to San Francisco State College to be a teacher. I never thought I'd make a living in music. I studied classical piano for the first time. I had to play some Beetho­ven for my graduation. I went for four years, got my B.A. I played in dance bands in San Francisco. My favorite piano players were Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum. I played at Sweets Ballroom, where every week they would have a name band. Benny Goodman came in with Harry James playing the trumpet. Sinatra came in singing with Tommy Dorsey. We would play the first couple of hours and then we'd hear Duke Ellington or Jimmie Lunceford or Gene Krupa. I remember giving Gene a couple of arrangements.

"I learned the hard way, and I got to be pretty good, I must say. Everybody wanted to use me to play piano in dance bands. In those days in San Francisco, what they called tenor bands were quite popular. I had to play like Eddie Duchin and people like that. I didn't go for the Freddy Martin type things. Gil Evans was my favorite band."

Gil Evans had a highly regarded regional band that played in a Benny Goodman style. It was heard on the radio.

"I liked Fletcher Henderson," Pete said. "Eddie Sauter was one of my favorite arrangers. And Bill Finegan. They were to

One of the best things on the band that I have read is in a liner note by Pete Welding for a reissue CD that he produced, Kenton: New Concepts in Artistry in Rhythm. Acknowledging the later criticisms of Kenton, Welding wrote:

"But the 1940s and most of the '50s belonged to Kenton. His was one of the most vital new bands to have emerged during the war years and, as the decade advanced and put behind it the hit-oriented vocals and novelty fare that initially had enabled it to sustain itself, its music became ever more venturesome in character as its approach was more clearly defined. This stemmed almost solely from Kenton, through the many attractive themes and striking arrangements he fash­ioned for the band and . . . through supervising . . . the other orchestrators who from the late '40s contributed to its book."

"A lot of the things in the book I did not write," Rugolo said. "Stan wrote Artistry in Rhythm, although I did different arrangements of it. He'd been using it as a theme, the slow version. I did Artistry Jumps. Stan wrote Concerto to End All Concertos and Opus in Pastels." Indeed, Kenton wrote and arranged a lot of the material that defined the band by the mid-1940s, including Eager Beaver, Painted Rhythm, Collaboration, Theme to the West, Minor Riff, and Southern Scandal. 'They were all things he wrote before I joined the band," Pete said. "I wrote Elegy for Alto and a lot of things. I wrote most of the original tunes for the band.

"We were supposed to record Ravel's Bolero. But we couldn't get a copyright clearance. Stan said, 'Can you write a new bolero?' So I wrote Artistry in Bolero. Ten out of twelve things in those albums are mine."

One of the things he wrote was an arrangement of Benny Carter's Lonely Woman, featuring a trombone solo by Milt Bernhart. He also wrote an arrangement on All the Things You Are for June Christy. The tune itself is beyond the scope of her chops, and the boodly-oo-debe-bop scat solo in the up-­tempo second chorus is particularly inept. But then my views on scat singing are by now a matter of record. He also wrote a piece called Three Mothers, a sort of homage to Woody Herman's Four Brothers. The players were Art Pepper, Conte Candoli, and Bob Cooper. Bebop was in full flower, and Pete sounded very much at home in it.

Kenton had an acute ear not only for arrangers, Bill Russo and Bill Holman among the most important, but for players. The alumni included, as well as those already mentioned, Stan Getz, Eddie Safranski, Kai Winding, Shelly Manne, Laurindo Almeida, Conte and Pete Candoli, Maynard Ferguson, Shorty Rogers, Lennie Niehaus, Frank Rosolino, Sal Salvador, Bill Perkins, Lee Konitz, Richie Kamuca, Herb Geller, Zoot Sims, Stan Levey, Bill Perkins, Charlie Mariano, Carl Fontana, Pepper Adams, Red Mitchell, Jack Sheldon, Bud Shank, Rolf Ericsson, Jimmy Knepper, Al Porcino, and Red Kelly. A lot of these men also played in the Woody Herman band

There was no great love between Woody Herman and Stan Kenton. Because I liked both men, and Woody was almost a father to me, I tried to soothe things, telling each of them (I lied) something nice the other supposedly had said about him. It didn't work; they either knew each other too well, or they knew me too well. Bassist Red Kelly, one of those who worked in both bands, proposed a theory. "They didn't trust each other," Red said. "Woody didn't trust anything that didn't swing. Stan didn't trust anything that did."

Shelly Manne was quoted in Down Beat as saying that playing drums with Kenton was like chopping wood. Al Porcino, one of the greatest of lead trumpet players, was yet another of those who had played in both bands. A legend has grown up around a remark attributed to Porcino. Stan would sometimes give pep talks to the band. In one of them Stan said (and he had a wonderfully sonorous voice), "We've had the Artistry in Rhythm orchestra, we've had the Innovations in Modern Music orchestra, we've had the Neophonic Orchestra. We've got to try something new."

From the back of the band came the slow bored voice of Al Porcino, "We could try swinging, Stan."

Bud Shank told me a few years ago:

"I had and still have a lot of respect for Stan. He really encouraged the guys in the band to do whatever their thing was. I was hired to be lead alto player, not to be a soloist. That was Art Pepper's job. Whatever your position in that band, Stan encouraged you to do your thing.

"But that band was too clumsy to swing — because of the instrumentation and the voicings. On the other hand, the sounds that came out of it were big noises, really impressive. That's what that band was all about, making those really big noises. As far as swinging, it never did swing. Maybe it wasn't supposed to. I don't know. There sure were some players in it who swung.

"The Contemporary Concepts album, with those Bill Holman arrangements — that's one of the best big-band albums I've ever heard."

And, with Mel Lewis driving the rhythm section, it assuredly swung.

Confirming Bud's statement that Stan let the musicians do their thing, Pete said: "We played a lot of theaters in those days. Stan needed a fast opener. He'd tell me things like that. He changed hardly a note of what I did. He paid me so much a week. At first it was fifty dollars a week, or something like that, but he never said, 'You have to write so many arrange­ments.' When we traveled I never had time to write. But when we'd get to L.A. I'd write five arrangements. I learned to write pretty fast in those days. One tune a day.

"I traveled on the bus. We had to pay for our own room and board. We were on the bus a lot, playing one-nighters. We'd play one place and the next night we'd be two hundred miles away. I loved playing Canada."

"Yeah, that's where I met you. You were so kind to me."


"I'm glad. I think all the people I met were nice to me. I met Duke Ellington. He would talk to me. In fact he'd call me at four o'clock in the morning and say, 'When are you going to write something for me?' I couldn't write for him. He was my favorite, and I'd think, 'What if I write something and he doesn't like it?' The other guy I did the same thing to was Frank Sinatra. I got to be a buddy of his. I kept company with him, especially during his bad years when he couldn't sing. He was always after me to do an arrangement for him. And I could never do it. He was my favorite singer, and I thought 'Suppose I do something and he doesn't like it?' So those two, Duke Ellington and Frank Sinatra, I could never write for them. Anybody else asked me, and I would do it. Charlie Barnet. Whatever they wanted. But those two, I never could force myself to write for them.

"After Stan broke up the band in '49,1 stayed two years in New York. I went to work for Capitol records, producing. I recorded all the Capitol people that came to town. In those days, New York was wonderful. It had 52nd Street and all the jazz. I did some arrangements. I wrote for Billy Eckstine. All the good singers liked my work. A lot of artists were coming into New York to record. Capitol had an office there. I did Mel Torme's first things, Blue Moon. I found Harry Belafonte singing some place, and signed him. He could sing jazz, but he didn't sell and Capitol let him go. He became famous singing calypso. We've remained friends.

"I produced the Miles Davis sessions they later called Birth of the Cool. I didn't make that name up. I heard them rehearsing down in the Village one day. I liked the idea of this band, so I signed them. We made some dates. Nobody knew it was going to be that popular until Capitol released it as The Birth of the Cool.

"It was a thing we all loved doing. We had all those good players, like Gerry Mulligan and Lee Konitz. Capitol put the records out, and the musicians started collecting them. I produced them all. I stayed in the booth and I really was tough with them. I made them do things over and over until they were just right. Stan taught me that. Stan would take a half hour tuning, making sure everything was just right. We really spent time on things, and that's why those records are so good."

"What is remarkable about that Miles Davis band," I said, "is that it only ever played two public engagements, a week at the Royal Roost and a one-nighter at Birdland, and made what was collected into one ten-inch LP, and it has had this immense influence on American music."

'That's right," Pete said. 'The musicians bought the records. It was word of mouth."
It is a more than likely that without Pete Rugolo, those records would never have been made.

He also produced — and wrote — a considerable number of the Nat Cole records, including one of the most famous of them all. "I did about forty things for Nat. For a couple of years, I did all his things. One of the things I was proud of was Lush Life. When it first came out, Capitol didn't like it. They didn't release it for a whole year. They finally put it out as a B side on a real commercial tune. And people started really liking it. That was the first recording of the tune. Billy Strayhorn gave it to me. He said, 'I've got a tune here. I wish you'd show it to Nat.' I loved the tune. I made like a tone poem out of it. I made it about twice as long. But for a long time I got criticized for it.

“Nat was so nice to work for. He never told me what to do. He would give me a list of songs. I knew his keys. And then we'd do a record date two or three times a year. We'd do something here or something in New York. He let me write nice things. I wrote some pretty string stuff. "

Pete wrote for a dizzying variety of singers during his Capitol years, including the Four Freshmen.

"They came to my office in New York," he said, "and they sang Laura for me and a few tunes and I loved them. I talked Capitol into signing them. When I came back out here, I got together with them. They liked the sound of Stan's trombones. So I talked them into recording with five trombones. I wrote the arrangements, I conducted, I produced it. We called it Four Freshmen and Five Trombones. It made a big hit. Later on we tried it again, but it wasn't as successful. I was close friends with them. They were all wonderful guys.

"When I moved here to L.A. from New York, I went through a divorce. She took every cent out of the bank. When I arrived, I didn't have a nickel. I stayed at June Christy's place for a while. I got a call from a publisher, Mickey Goldsen. He said, 'Pete, you know, your royalties are really good. If you want, I can give you so much a month until you get settled.' I was looking for work. I was ghosting, I was writing things for Les Baxter for fifty dollars an arrangement. I did a whole album with Yma Sumac. I was doing a lot of things for Ray Anthony. So when Mickey Goldsen called me, he said he could give me $200 a month to live on. Many years later he told me, 'Pete, I have to tell you. That was Stan's money. He was supporting you.'

"Stan published my songs, and he got the money back in time, but Stan did things like that. Stan had a couple of publishing companies with Mickey. Mickey said, 'Stan was the one. He wanted me to take care of you.'"

(Mickey Goldsen headed Capitol's publishing division during Johnny Mercer's presidency of the company. Later he set up his own publishing companies, under the general head of Criterion Music. He has a considerable jazz catalogue, including many works of Charlie Parker and Gerry Mulligan. He is probably, along with Howie Richmond, the most respected publisher in this business. Howie is now semi-retired, but Mickey is still very active, working ever day and playing tennis every morning. And he is eighty-six.)

"For a while I was an a&r man with Mercury," Pete said. "Stereo was just coming out. I did an album with ten trom­bones and two pianos. Then I did ten trumpets. I took all the famous trumpet tunes and made arrangements. Then I did one with two basses. I was allowed to do anything I wanted to. I produced Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington.

"I got a call from Johnny Green, who was head of music at MGM in those days. They were making a movie with Mickey Rooney playing the drums, called The Strip. I wrote sort of a jazz score. That was my first movie. I got to meet Joe Pasternak, who was producing all the musicals, and I did all the Esther Williams pictures. I stayed almost five years at MGM.


"Then one day I got a call from Stanley Wilson at Univer­sal. They said they were doing a TV series with Boris Karloff called Thriller and they thought I'd be good for that kind of score. They wanted a real kind of modern score. So I went to Universal and I did the pilot and they really liked it a lot. I met Roy Huggins, who became a very dear friend, and he used me in everything. I did The Fugitive theme and the music and everything Roy Huggins did. And I did other things at Universal. I stayed at Universal for fifteen years. I did one show after another. I wrote, like, forty minutes of music every week. I don't know how I ever did it. I learned to write real fast! And I never had an orchestrator. I orchestrated all my own music. I did a lot of those movies-of-the-week, as they called them. I did some of the Hitchcock TV shows."

"Were you and Mancini at Universal at the same time?"

'Yeah. By then Hank was doing movies. He didn't do any television then. He'd already done Peter Gunn. We were very dear friends. We had dinner together, we liked to cook together. For a long time he never got the credit he deserved. It went to Joseph Gershenson at Universal. Hank would get an orchestration credit. Gershenson would take the music credit. That was going on a lot in those days."
I said, "Hank did things like Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the royalties are still coming in. As Hank said, 'Movies are forever.'"

"Oh sure. I was griping all the time because Roy Huggins wanted music under everything, fires, machine guns, wrecks. And I was saying, 'I don't have time to write all that music!' But now I'm so glad I did, because the residuals are by the
minute. And they took time to do, automobile races, and all that. Now I'm glad I did it"

I asked Pete, who retired some time ago, if he could, in so storied a career, cite high points in his life and work. He said:

"I wrote a lot of television shows. I did movies. I did some jazz albums for Columbia Records. I'm very proud of all the things I did with June Christy, Something Cool.
"And the years with Stan. They were wonderful. Stan was wonderful. We were very close friends, almost like brothers."

Some years ago, Henry Mancini went to the mountain village where his father was born. The road was rough and danger­ous. There was no hotel in the village, and he and his wife turned around and went back down the mountain. Now, Hank told me, a freeway ran to the village, and it had evolved into a ski resort. He said it's where the Italians go to ski.

Pete made a similar pilgrimage, but in his case to the village in which not his father but he was born. Again, the road up the mountain was dangerous. And again, there was no hotel, and he never did find the house in which he was born. He and his wife Edie told their driver to turn around, and they went back down the mountain. They went on to Messina.

Sicily was far in Pete's past."

You can listen to an example of Pete’s writing for television on the audio track to the following video. The tune is entitled The Teaser and it would be played for the short “teaser” action you see first at the beginning of each Richard Diamond Private Detective television show starring actor David Janssen.

The Teaser is a stirring example of Rugolo’s thrilling Latin Jazz. Larry Bunker plays both bongos and (later) vibraphone. The irrepressible Bud Shank plays the Jazz alto solo. Buddy Collette and Bob Cooper are briefly heard on flute and oboe respectively.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw

From a concert performed by the orchestra on April 28, 2011 at The Bimhuis in Amsterdam, the composition is entitled Black, Whiter and Brown and features Peter Beets on piano, Joris Roelofs on bass clarinet, and Jan van Duikeren on trumpet with Martijn Vink booting things along in the drum chair.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sonny Criss: An Overlooked Giant


© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“ a piercing, passionate sound.”
- Mark Gardner

“I was playing with Sonny Criss and Hampton Hawes – a great Jazz pianist. … Sonny had such a great ear that he could hear something once and play it. …

Sonny Criss and I played together quite a while until I went to study with Joseph Cadaly [a first chair saxophonist at RKO Studies who taught reeds, harmony and solf├Ęge]. That’s when Sonny and I split up. He continued into progressive Jazz, and I went and studied.

When we split, he started going all up and down the Coast playing and going to Europe. But I don't know, it just didn't happen. He'd get records. People said he was great. They played his stuff. But it just didn't happen for him, and I think that kind of disturbed him. Especially when you put your whole soul and your whole life and just wrap up everything into something and it doesn't happen.

He was pioneering and when you're pioneering, it's kind of more difficult to get recognition …. You have to suffer when you're a pioneer. So that's what hap­pened, really, I think, with Sonny. He was just early.
- Cecil “Big Jay” McNeely, tenor saxophonist

Criss was a bop saxophonist, strongly influenced at first by Charlie Parker. But his mature style was more distinctive: he produced a warm, rich tone and a prominent vibrato that Par­ker lacked. He was capable of playing dazzling runs with such effortless grace that they never sounded ostentatious. An excel­lent jazz musician, through lack of opportunities Criss never gained the recognition he deserved.
- Barry Kernfeld [ed.], The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz

“Criss’ style is marked by super-fast runs, soaring, high register figures and a pure urgent tone and delivery. His ballad renderings are often characterized by sorrowful solos, spoken with manly regret and without a wasted gesture. At times Criss’ soling bears comparison with Parker’s on the “With Strings” session.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed. [paraphrased]

“Sonny’s was a talent too big to be denied. For me, he comes immediately after Bird as an alto saxophonist. … I don’t know anyone who was exposed to his playing who didn’t enjoy him.”
- Bob Porter, Jazz Historian

How do you overlook a giant?

This is not a trick question, as somehow, the mainstream Jazz world managed to overlook alto saxophonist Sonny Criss for thirty years: from 1947, when he first came on the scene, until his death in 1977.

Although Sonny was a player of extraordinary power and brilliance, outside of a small coterie on admirers, primarily in Los Angeles, he was largely unnoticed in Jazz circles in terms of his significance and importance.

Why? The guy was a monster player.

As is usually the case, if one is looking for information and explanations about modern Jazz in California between 1945-1960, a good starting point is Ted Gioia’s West Coast Jazz [Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: The University of California Press, 1992].

And as usual, Ted doesn’t disappoint offering over nine pages on Sonny’s career in his marvelous retrospective of Jazz on the West Coast [pp. 121-129].

Picking up where Jazz historian Bob Porter left off, Ted comments:

“Perhaps, the problem was, as Porter hints, that so few people were exposed to Criss’s music. Sonny’s career took place in Los Angeles (except for a short time in Europe). He never made the East Coast move, which benefited other talents such as Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, and Dexter Gordon.”

Ted goes on to explain: “ Although Criss's sound and conception stayed true to the model set by Bird, several differences are striking. Criss tends more toward even streams of notes, only occasionally matching Parker's masterful start-and-stop rhythmic phrasing. And even more than Parker, Criss maintained a strong gospel-ish blues bent in his playing. … Electricity is in the air every time Criss solos.”

Most, if not all, suicides are shocking, and the reason for Sonny’s remained obscure for many years until Ted discovered while interviewing Criss’s mother, Lucy, for his book on West Coast Jazz, that Sonny had been suffering from stomach cancer.


If you are new to Sonny’s music, you can explore his style and approach with a 2 CD set re-issued on Blue Note [7243 5 24564 2 0] entitled The Complete Imperial Sessions which is a compilation of three albums that Criss made in the 1950s: Jazz USA, Go Man! and Sonny Criss Plays Cole Porter.

Here are Bob Porter’s insert notes to the set.

© -  Bob Porter, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“IT didn't make any sense. Sonny Criss took his own life shortly after his 50th birthday just as things were finally breaking for him. After a hiatus of several years, he had resumed recording in 1975. An album for Xanadu, two for Muse and a pair for Impulse had brought his name back before the public once again. He was preparing to make his first Japanese tour. He had toured Europe in 1973 and '74 and found that his popularity, especially in France, was still strong. Everything was finally falling into place. Again, it didn't make any sense.

His entry in the Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz details a career of fits and starts. He had the ability to play with major leaguers right from the beginning. Concerts for Gene Norman, tours (and records) with Norman Granz, associations with Billy Eckstine, Jazz at the Philharmonic and Buddy Rich were a part of his first ten years as a professional. Apart from a period in the early 1960s when he lived and worked in France, he was associated with the Los Angeles jazz scene. But in order to understand Sonny Criss, you must start in his hometown of Memphis.

W. C. Handy put Bluff City on the map musically early in the 20th century. Handy songs such as "Memphis Blues" and "Beale Street Blues" detailed some of the virtues of the community. Then and now, the blues is an ongoing part of life in Memphis but the flip side of the coin is the strength of gospel music in the same area. Memphis has produced some fine jazz musicians through the years, yet each of these players has had to leave town in order to build a career. The local music lovers appreciated the jazz played there, but there were few opportunities to make a full-time living. The best band of the pre-bop era was that of Al Jackson Sr. His son, Al Jr., would be a charter member of Booker T and the MGs. Jackson Sr/s drummer for much of his band's existence was Phineas Newborn, whose sons Calvin and Phineas Jr., went on to international fame. The first alto player in Al Jackson Sr/s band was Hank O'Day. Hank O'Day was the original inspiration for Sonny Criss.

O'Day had a big sound in the manner of Willie Smith or Hilton Jefferson. There are no recordings of him so there is no way to hear exactly what it was that attracted Sonny Criss. Yet O'Day's reputation lingered long in Memphis: many years later, his bandmaster gave Bennie Crawford the nickname "little Hank.” The "little" tag soon disappeared but Bennie has been Hank Crawford his entire professional career.

Sonny Criss also heard Charlie Parker before he left Memphis. Parker's solo on Jay McShann's "Hootie Blues" was of keen interest to the young saxophonist before he knew the name of its player. "It was clear to me, right away," he once remarked, "that someone had found a new way to solo on a twelve-bar blues." The final influence on Criss was Eddie Vinson, primarily for his feeling. On blues at certain tempos, Criss and Vinson can sound very much alike. Benny Carter has also been cited as an influence on Sonny Criss; while there is no question that Sonny Criss had great respect and admiration for Carter, the evidence of influence is scant.

The Criss family moved to Los Angeles in 1942. By the time he had graduated from High School, Sonny was working the Central Avenue territory with a variety of small groups. In 1947 things really picked up for Criss: He played some gigs with Howard McGhee and appeared with McGhee at Gene Norman's Just Jazz concert in April. He worked at Billy Berg's, backing Billy Eckstine, in a group led by Al Killian. That group (which also included Wardell Gray) worked up the coast with Eckstine and at the conclusion of the tour continued to appear under Killian's leadership. They were back in Los Angeles for the show Ralph Bass promoted at the Central Avenue Elks' Hall in early July. The band then played Seattle, San Francisco and spent several months in Portland. Acetates were cut in Portland and the Killian group appeared on the Armed Forces Radio series, Jubilee.


In 1948, Criss began working with Jazz at the Philharmonic [JATP]. At the conclusion of the spring 1949 JATP tour, he worked up and down the eastern seaboard with a group led by Flip Phillips. He made his first recordings for Granz in September and gigged with The Lighthouse All-Stars. Things continued along similar lines until 1952 when the bottom of the scene began to drop out. By this time Criss was known as a soloist and a small group specialist which would be his role for his entire career. He rarely got any studio gigs (although he popped up on a Jimmy Witherspoon Modern session) and while he gradually built up a reputation as a leader around Los Angeles, he never worked enough out of town to establish himself as a draw on the road. In late 1955, he began a three-year association with Buddy Rich.

West Coast jazz was not something that held any interest for Sonny Criss and the record labels operating around town such as Pacific Jazz, Contemporary, GNP or Jazz West weren't interested in what Sonny was playing. Then, all of a sudden, things changed. During 1956, despite the fact that he had recorded only four single sides as a leader and had never made an album, Sonny Criss recorded three LPs for Imperial Records.

On the surface this looks crazy. Lew Chudd had founded Imperial Records in 1945, and initially its recordings were of Mexican artists. But it had shown a penchant for developing country acts (Slim Whitman) and rhythm & blues performers (a host of fine artists, mostly from New Orleans, headed by Fats Domino). They had dabbled in modern jazz during the 10"- LP era with a pair of fine recordings by Charlie Mariano, but since that time had done almost nothing. Imperial was a singles label and until 1956 had no 12" IPs. Apart from Sonny Criss, Imperial issued two albums by Wild Bill Davis and one by Warne Marsh (reissued on Intuition by Lennie Tristano and Warne Marsh — Capitol Jazz 52771) and that constituted their attempts at jazz recording for quite a while. Those albums had a very short shelf life and by the end of the decade had been deleted. A compilation taken from all three Criss albums was issued in 1962 and quickly disappeared. The albums have been reissued on several occasions in Japan.

The music on these albums is uniformly excellent. There has never been any individual credited with producing these albums but whoever it was they did a fine job. Criss had chosen his accompanists well, the material is a thoughtful blend of standards and originals and the performances are absolutely masterful. Highlights would include the four titles with Barney Kessel, the ballad "More Than You Know" (especially the verse) and the Criss masterpiece, "West Coast Blues” from the Jazz USA album; all of Sonny Clark's playing and the blazing "The Man I Love" from Go Man and "What Is This Thing Called Love" from Sonny Criss Plays Cole Porter. These recordings are every bit as good as the more celebrated Criss records from the 60s and 70s.

Sonny is remembered fondly by almost everyone who ever heard him play. He had an innate ability to communicate. His passion for a beautiful ballad or a funky blues was equal to his lightning quick articulation at fast tempos. The music here is the last major Sonny Criss material to come to CD and if you have not encountered this artist before, one listen will make you want more. There is other Sonny Criss material on CD but for many of us there could never be enough.

— BOB PORTER March, 2000”

The following video tribute to Sonny was developed in conjunction with the ace graphics team at CerraJazz LTD and features his version of Summertime with Sonny Clark on piano, Leroy Vinnegar on bass and Lawrence Marable on drums.